Health Care: Speed Bump In The Senate?

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Greg Sargent picks this up:

The GOP Senate leadership has privately settled on a strategy to derail health reform if Dems try to pass the Senate bill with a fix through reconciliation, aides say: Unleash an endless stream of amendments designed to stall for time and to force Dems to take untenable votes.

The aide described the planned GOP strategy as a “free for all of amendments,” vowing Dems would face “a mountain of amendments so politically toxic they’ll make the first health debate look like a post office naming.”

The initial read that I get from congressional Democrats is that it would be entirely possible for the Republicans to offer “an endless stream of amendments” — which, practically speaking, means they could stretch out the process for weeks if not months. While debate on reconciliation is limited to 20 hours, the Senate would nonetheless have to vote on as many amendments as were ruled germane. Once again, here’s a description of how the process works. And Jeff Davis recently wrote this:

This leads to perhaps the Senate’s most stupefying activity (in a chamber chock full of stupefying activity)–“vote-a-rama.” At the conclusion of the 20 hours of debate, senators can still offer an unlimited number of amendments, which must then be voted on immediately, without debate. And by “unlimited,” I mean it is never less than dozens but could easily stretch into the hundreds. The Senate usually gets unanimous consent to shorten the time for roll call votes from the usual 15-plus minutes down to two minutes each, but that requires unanimous consent, which has been lacking on anything having to do with health care. As political scientist (and my old college professor) Walter Oleszek says, the Senate basically only has two rules: unanimous consent and exhaustion. So Republicans can keep offering amendments and forcing roll call votes until they are physically no longer able to do so. (This is why the Majority Leader prefers to schedule a reconciliation bill or budget resolution right before the Senate is supposed to take a long vacation–to give the minority an incentive to cut the vote-a-rama short and go home. The next scheduled Senate recess is the week of President’s Day, so the most logical time to schedule the reconciliation bill for the Senate floor would be the few days leading up to Friday, February 12.)